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'Smarter Summers' Initiative Shows Student Progress

The National Summer Learning Association has just released results of its "Smarter Summers" initiative. The three-year project is supported by a $11.5 grant from the Walmart Foundation, which is used to expand and enhance summer programs in 10 cities, serving around 20,000 middle school students.

(The Baltimore-based association advocates and supports summer learning programs nationwide.)

The programs receiving funding are: THINK Together (California), BELL (Detroit, Boston, New York, Baltimore), Summer Advantage USA (Chicago, Indianapolis), and Higher Achievement (Washington, Baltimore).

Profiles of the programs are provided in the report, and how their strategies are having a positive impact on students. While the programs all have academic, healthy lifestyle, and enrichment components, they vary in terms of structure and self-evaluation.

A few of the highlights:
> Summer Advantage USA's students gained an average of 2.1 months of grade-level equivalency in literacy and math skills over the summer. The program also enhanced parent involvement; more than 90 percent of the students' parents had at least one contact with a teacher to discuss his or her child's performance.
> At THINK Together, close to 90 percent of sites demonstrated student growth from pre-test to post-test in math vocabulary.
>At Higher Achievement, 65 percent of students have increased their math grades or maintained A or B averages in school from last year. Around 70 percent had fewer school absences.

"The Walmart Foundation's investment in four high-quality summer learning programs is having a ripple effect across 10 cities," the report says. "Instead of falling off track during the critical transitions to middle school and high school, these young people are gaining academic ground and invaluable exposure to colleges, careers, and a network of supportive adults. ... With school district and city budgets strapped, Smarter Summers is providing an essential lifeline in many communities."

Other summer programs take notice: The association is also now accepting applications for its annual Excellence in Summer Learning Awards now through Feb. 10.

The awards are given to summer programs that reduce summer learning loss through promoting academic success and improved youth outcomes. You may remember a few of the 2011 winners I blogged about in August, such as New York's Fiver Children's Foundation or Chicago's Project Exploration. These programs were recognized at the organization's annual conference, held in mid November in San Francisco.

Applications submitted to NSLA and interviews are required to be in the running for the 2012 awards, and both the association and peer organizations review and provide feedback to all applicants on their strengths/ weaknesses.

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